Breakout Cities

Breakout City Mayors: The 4 steps to success

CityAge recently brought together the leaders of America’s Breakout Cities — the places that are making a mark as we emerge from the pandemic. Here are four things we learned from our first panel discussion with Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, Erie Downtown Development Corporation’s Corey Cook and Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. The panel was hosted by Patrick Seeb, of Rochester’s Destination Medical Centre.

1. Protect your city’s open spaces

Boise saw three times the usage of public parks along its greenbelt during the pandemic. That increase hasn’t changed now that people are back to work. Mayor Lauren McLean says it’s a sign that cities need to protect those elements of the community. 

“It’s helped us to see the importance of open space in terms of resiliency, and quality of life,” she said.

The display of community support has also helped them commit more to the America the Beautiful initiative, focused on creating more open spaces, protecting clean water, and restoring natural habitats.

Safeguarding open space ties sustainability, quality of life, and health and wellness together — all characteristics of a Breakout City. 

2. Embrace arts & culture

The arts aren’t just a tourism driver or some abstract reminder of the human condition. They’re a tool to grow the economy. 

“Arts are the way that you package a city,” said Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. “For many years, the city really kept Burning Man as a deep, dark, dirty secret,” she said, but after becoming Mayor she saw opportunity. 

Now she says the festival is a “massive driver” for their economy as well as their community culture, as an increasing number of artists and entrepreneurs are relocating to Reno. 

A Breakout City has a sense of self. Embracing the arts can help a city form its identity, while creating economic opportunity all at the same time. 

3. Focus on mental health

Last year Mayor Schieve used CARES Act money to buy a subscription to the mental health app, Talkspace, for every Reno resident.

During the long stretch of isolation in 2020 she noticed that people with no history of mental illness were struggling, as well as people who didn’t have access to their regular care. The City Council unanimously approved the funding. 

For Mayor Schieve, prioritizing mental health proactively handles the downstream problems cities face, including homelessness and addiction, drains on quality of life and the economy.

4. Bring public and private together

Erie Pennsylvania is reimagining its downtown — one of the poorest zip codes in America — through public-private partnerships.

The Erie Downtown Development Corporation is a private organization, but Corey Cook says they’ve built a strong relationship with the city through monthly meetings with the Mayor and his staff, and they started a Community Engagement Council made up of community leaders. They also meet with the city’s biggest private companies, such as their resident Fortune 500 company, Erie Insurance, as well as their universities and major hospitals.

It’s what Bruce Katz wants cities to know too: they are more than their local government. Networks of public and private players are the way communities make lasting, comprehensive change. 


Watch the recording of this panel, and the rest of our Breakout Cities launch, here.


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